The benefits of having project managers on staff are increasingly evident as more studies are conducted on project failure. Project failure accounts for an average of $97 million for every $1 billion invested. Projects are used to achieve an organization’s goals, and managers of these strategic goals do this by initiating, planning, budgeting, monitoring, documenting, and ensuring closure of a project. The career path for project managers is often referred to as the “Accidental Profession,” because rarely are project managers hired directly for their roles.

Curious about a project management career? Get more insight.

Our Project Manager Career Pathway Is Mapped!


Are Project Managers Needed?

The 1994 project for the new Denver airport’s baggage handling system was ambitious, and the execution of its fully automated, one-of-a-kind baggage system was a $3.8 billion bonded debt failure. The plan for the airport included room for 12 major runways with an automated baggage system, all run by 150 computers.

Trouble began when it became apparent that the untested baggage system contained a significant flaw: line balancing. For the system to meet the promised 1,400 bags/minute, a few conditions needed to be consistently achieved.

First, each bag must be placed on its own cart (conveyor belts can’t accidentally deliver two or more), and the conveyor belt can only move when there’s an empty cart where a perfectly timed bag is delivered. This means the speed of the whole system depends on how fast an empty cart gets to the conveyer belt.

Empty carts will only arrive after depositing previous loads, which depends on a laser gun reader. Plaguing the airport were countless scenarios, such as hidden labels on bags, more than one label from earlier flights, dirty and unreadable labels, and broken readers, which prevented loading and offloading of bags (Neufville, 2014).

As you can imagine, this endless list of automated “domino type” tasks set the stage for failure, a failure marked by a 16-month long delay with an estimated cost of $1.1 million each day. An experienced, well trained project manager would at the very least have identified the lack of line balancing as a significant risk to operation before project kick-off. The concept behind line balancing is to always provide equal service, so that no line gets too many or too few bags.

A Project Manager’s Start

The project management institute (PMI) estimates 22 million new jobs, a growth of 33% for project managers in seven project-oriented sectors by 2027.The need for project managers is increasing, and it’s not slowing down.

An interview of 87 project managers regarding the career paths that led them to project management aligned with other findings. More than half of the participants were highly trained specialists with cross-functional responsibilities. Forty-five percent also reported growing into the role, an indication that companies are unlikely to hire a project manager from the start.

A future project manager often begins as a technical specialist in, for example, the leading seven project dependent industries like Manufacturing, Management and Professional Services, Finance and Insurance, Oil and Gas, Information Services, Construction, and Utilities (PMI, 2017).

Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification

Is it worth your time and money to acquire a project management certification? Becoming a certified professional project manager is not easy. For instance, as of 2018, PMI, an ISO 9001 certified provider of the certificate, requires (along with a four-year degree):

  • 4,500 hours leading and directing projects
  • 35 hours of project management education
  • Passing a 200-question exam within four hours

The certification exam cost ranges from $400 to $550, excluding study material costs, and tuition fees to satisfy project management education. An internet search of “PMP certification cost” estimates an average of $765 to >$2,065.

A study interviewed 25 project managers to try and understand the value of PMP certification to project managers and the organizations they serve. There are limitations in this study; for example, 76% are PMP certified, which might introduce optimistic bias, and research did not test any relationships (i.e., positive correlation between certification and career advancement). Nevertheless, study participants reported that a PMP certificate provided benefits such as:

  • An easier job search—job postings recommend or require it
  • Meeting requirements—most contract work requires a PMP
  • Affirmation of knowledge & abilities—confirmation of what is already known
  • Sense of accomplishment—enjoyed the challenge of passing the exam
  • Credibility—being recognized as experts
  • Job security—certification gives an edge over the competition on a resume
  • Self-assessment tool—studying for the exam reveals gaps in knowledge

High Priority Skills – Who Employers Are After

What two high priority skills must you be able to demonstrate to your future employer? Technical expertise and leadership. Drawing out the objectives of a project requires a breakdown of the technical components of what needs to be done. Another soft skill that must not be overlooked is the leadership role of a project manager in ensuring project success.

Among the core competencies for executive project managers are leadership skills that include communication, trust, change management, managing ambiguity and complexity, and team building, to name a few.

The career path to becoming a project manager involves evolution from technical specialist to program/area manager to project manager and finally to senior/executive project manager. This growth is coupled with time and experience within an organization.



Success Rates Rise: Transforming the high cost of low performance. (2017). 9th ed. [PDF] Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, pp.1-32. Available at: [Accessed 17 Apr. 2018].

Is Project Management Still an Accidental Profession? A Qualitative Study of Career Trajectory. Richardson, T., Earnhardt, M. and Marion, J. (2015). Is Project Management Still an Accidental Profession? A Qualitative Study of Career Trajectory. [PDF] California: SAGE Publications Inc, pp.1-10. Available at: [Accessed 17 Apr. 2018].

Project Manager Insights: An Analysis of Career Progression Marion, J., Richardson, T. and Earnhardt, M. (2014). Project Manager Insights: An Analysis of Career Progression. [PDF] Scholarly Commons, pp.1-22. Available at: [Accessed 17 Apr. 2018].

PROJECT MANAGEMENT – THEN AND NOW. Ranf, D. (2011). PROJECT MANAGEMENT – THEN AND NOW. [PDF] Annales Universitatis Apulensis Series Oeconomica, pp.1-8. Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2018].

Software’s Chronic Crisis. Gibbs, W. (1994). Software’s Chronic Crisis. [PDF] Scientific American, pp.1-14. Available at: [Accessed 17 Apr. 2018].

The Baggage System at Denver: Prospects and Lessons. Neufville, R. (2014). The Baggage System at Denver: Prospects and Lessons. [PDF] Massachusetts: Professor of Civil Engineering Chairman, Technology and Policy Program, pp.1-15. Available at: [Accessed 17 Apr. 2018].

Denver Airport Baggage Handling System Case Study. (2008). [PDF] Calleam Consulting Ltd, pp.1-10. Available at: [Accessed 17 Apr. 2018].

Project Manager Leadership Role in Improving Project Performance. Anantatmula, V. (2010). Project Manager Leadership Role in Improving Project Performance. 22nd ed. [PDF] London: Engineering Management Journal, pp.13-20. Available at: [Accessed 17 Apr. 2018].

Automation Off Course in Denver. Myerson, A. (1994). Automation Off Course in Denver. [PDF] New York: The New York Times, p.1. Available at: [Accessed 18 Apr. 2018].

PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Job Growth and Talent Gap. (2017). [PDF] PROJECT MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE, pp.1-10. Available at: [Accessed 18 Apr. 2018].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Ever wonder why you never got that promotion?